Earlier this week I handed an expensive computer and an equally expensive software package over to a complete stranger in order for him to repair the computer and install the software. We had never met before, and I only knew him by his screen name, since we had only met on Twitter. Ours was not a business arrangement as such, since this was an IT professional doing some repair work in his own time for ‘pocket money’, as he described it. We parted with nothing but an exchange of phone numbers and Twitter names as proof of our encounter.
The computer is back now, new software installed and well on the way to being used again.
Of course, this could all have turned out very differently. I might have misread things entirely, and waved goodbye to computer and software in a moment of spectacularly misjudged folly. I believe, though, in the power of community. Like other on-line communities such as Ebay, Twitter is built on trust. I met my computer doctor through a friend’s recommendation, and now will pass on that recommendation in similar vein. The relationships we build on-line are just that – relationships. There are many differences between them and their off-line equivalent, but some important similarities too.Trust, openness and honesty count for a great deal. Feedback is the lifeblood of the on-line world, without which it cannot function.
Maybe what clinched it for me in this on-line turned off-line encounter was the moment when my computer helper said to me that he was glad he had moved to our town because it was a “real community”. In a day when social media is occasionally demonised as a tool in the hands of society’s most destructive people, let’s not forget those moments when it serves as a tool for positive community engagement.